Neighbors in Need Offering Continues

The Neighbors in Need offering was collected on Sunday, October 7, with a total of $240.oo being taken in.  If you were not able to make a donation on Sunday, you may still do so on the following Sunday, October 14.  Offering envelopes remain available for donations to this project.

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Annual Beef and Noodle Dinner Friday, October 26

St. John’s UCC will sponsor its annual beef and noodle dinner on Friday, October 26, 2018, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.  Patrons may dine in or carry out.

The menu consists of homemade noodles with beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, apple sauce, roll, assorted pies and beverage.

Prices remain the same:  Adults: $8; 6th grade through college: $5; elementary: $4; Pre-K:  free.

St. John’s UCC is located at 223 West College Avenue, Bluffton, Ohio.  For further information, please contact the church office at 419-358-5641.

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Enfolding Love (World Communion Sunday October 7) Mark 10:2-16

What were you doing in fifth grade?  In Orange County, North Carolina, there is an embodiment of Love of Children and Love of Neighbor and she’s in fifth grade.  She is a member of the Hillsboro United Church of Christ.  Instead of Christmas presents last year she asked for blankets and socks for people in the local homeless shelter.  She’s been doing this kind of thing since she was seven years old. For her seventh birthday she got 71 coats delivered to the shelter.  This year she’s headed to a family shelter to read to the children.

Maya’s mom is a single mother and when asked where Maya developed her boundless love, her mom says it was the church that helped raise her.  How much more love our churches could share if we raised all our children this way.  Maya says that she has enough for her life and the joy she takes in giving is palpable to all who see her.

Love of Neighbor should be that visible.  It is the way Jesus is resurrected into the world, through the church, through the way we raise our children, through how we show love.

Dorothee Soelle, was a theologian and Professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  She wrote a poem about Jesus needing us called “Not Without You.”  This is an excerpt:

Help him.  That’s what faith is;  He can’t bring it about–His kingdom–couldn’t then; couldn’t later; can’t now; not at any rate without you; and that is His irresistible appeal.

This is a good way to think about our campaign for “A Just World” and “Three Great Loves.”  We are the expressed love of Jesus to the world.  We are his hands.  When we read in the Gospels that Jesus said we should receive the Realm of God like a child, we can imagine the love of Maya and the tears of joy she sheds because people who were cold are now warm.

You can read more stories like Maya’s, and get a tool kit about the Three Great Loves Campaign by going to

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Courage for Community (Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22)

American Indian Ministry Sunday/United Samoan Ministries Stewardship Sunday

What if we should lose our saltiness?  What if we should lose our taste, or our ability to make the world taste good, at least better than it does?  In a way, our vision of a Just World for All is also of a world that tastes good, or a world that has not lost its saltiness.  Jesus said we should be salt among ourselves and be at peace with one another.  There are those in this world who salt it by their presence.  Such a one was Juanita Helphrey (“Maaodagabagi Oxhaadish” White Flower).

In 1997, Juanita and five others were arrested for burning a Wahoo (“Chief” Wahoo is the mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team) effigy outside the gates of the World Series.  The charges were dropped but she was indefatigable when it cane to speaking up for Native American peoples, especially for the people of North Dakota.  She herself was a member of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation and a member of the National Staff of the United Church of Christ from 1991-2004.

She died in January, 2018 leaving a legacy of commitment and leadership for all of us in the UCC.  That legacy began in 1970 when she worked with the Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM).  In 1975 she became the Executive Director for Indian Affairs of North Dakota.  After representing North Dakota at the International Women’s Year Event in Houston, she was one of the women chosen to present their resulting resolution to President Carter.  She salted us all both in her work and in those she inspired.

After leaving her work with the National Staff she became a licensed minister and the licensed pastor of the Independence Congregational United Church of Christ on the Fort Berthold Reservation.  When she finally retired, she stayed there in Fort Berthold with her family–her three boys and grandson, sisters, nieces and nephew and her beloved dogs.

We are all connected one to the other, even with those we’ve never met.  Somehow, on this planet, in this universe we are what makes the world what it is.  Thank you, O God who has knit us together, thank you for the life of this woman who fought for remembrance and education and inclusion of all people.  Her  life has added salt to our world.

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First in Caring (Mark 9:30-37)

Sometimes children and youth are the ones who show the rest of us the way toward a “Just World for All.”  An abiding continuum of Love of Neighbor and a willingness to educate themselves about the world outside their neighborhood has led some UCC youth in Indiana to do remarkable things for the sake of the Gospel and all of us.

From assembling and distributing kits for the homeless, to building wells in Niger, and raising money to buy land for a school in Haiti they have done it all by following Just Peace principles.  A signature movement that was born in the UCC 30 years ago, “Just Peace” has inspired many in our congregations to the work of doing justice and seeking peace in the manner of Jesus the Christ whose message tells all that “Peace is Possible.”

Who are these remarkable young Christians?  They live in Indiana and belong to one of two small rural churches that share a pastor–St. Peter, in Lamar, Indiana, and Trinity UCC, in Fulda, Indiana.  That pastor, Reverend Paul Jahn, has been their pastor since 1979.  That’s almost 40 years of growing remarkable disciples for churches that are decidedly mission oriented.  What wonderful experiences they have had and the places they have been in mission to worlds beyond their small towns!  You don’t have to be big to make an impact and change lives.

These churches share two youth groups.  One is called the Young Disciples for grade school children and the teens have a joint Youth Fellowship.  It was the younger group that built the wells in Niger and the older group that secured the land for a school in Haiti.  Over the years, they have forged a sense of accomplishment and community together.

The great call to Love of Neighbor can seem daunting, especially when one hears about stories such as these.  But such a call can urge us to take a small step.  The Just Peace movement has resources and inspiration and ways to begin to educate your congregation about what is possible and what small steps you can take to broaden your best hope and share your love with the wider world.

Go to and search for “Just Peace.”  There you will find a way to begin.  You can also subscribe to the UCC newsletter “Keeping You Posted” and read all about what other churches are doing to spread Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation.


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The Book of James Is A Challenge

Listed below are topics of challenge with related chapters and verses in the book of James:

Suffering–trials and temptations–1:1-18

Hearing and doing–listening and doing–1:19-27

Not playing favorites–favoritism–2:1-13

Maintaining good works–Faith and deeds–2:14-26

Controlling the tongue–taming the tongue–3:1-12

Who we listen to–two kinds of wisdom–3:13-18

Resisting the world–submit yourselves to God–4:1-12

Planning with God–boasting about tomorrow–4:13-17

The use of our resources–warning to rich oppressors–5:1-12

Sickness–The Prayer of Faith–5:13-20

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Who Are You, Jesus? (Mark 8:27-38)

Jesus doesn’t take any prisoners in his denunciation of Peter at Caesarea Philippi.  He calls him Satan.  That’s a pretty strong condemnation for what might seem a small thing.

Jesus has openly declared to his disciples that he’s going to be crucified and resurrected.  Peter has a kind of “parking-lot-conversation” with Jesus.  You know what that means.  It’s the conversation that happens outside of the regular church meeting where people say what’s really on their minds.  For whatever reason, Peter doesn’t want to “rebuke” Jesus in front of everybody so he pulls him aside.  Maybe he even lowers his voice and keeps one hand on Jesus’ arm or back, trying to tell him that talk of crucifixion, even with resurrection, is not a marketable message.

But Jesus, who rarely minces words, tells him that it is all or nothing.  If you want to follow me, he says, then take up your cross.  There is no middle way here.  If you want to save your life then you must lose it.

Mark’s Gospel is told against the backdrop  of the Roman Empire, an empire that fostered inequality and corruption and by the time Mark’s gospel came into being, had destroyed Jerusalem and burned its massive Temple to the ground–scattering a whole population, decimating a religious tradition (Judaism) and slaughtering thousands indiscriminately.

You could not, as Mark’s Gospel outlines, work on behalf of the poor and outcast and not be considered an enemy of Rome.  It’s hard for us to imagine a world where your  inclination to help others would be suspect and, that to be a member of a religion might mark you for a horrible death.  Mark’s world was a world of secret meetings and hushed voices and fear.

When he takes Jesus aside, Peter is embodying that fear.  We might think it reckless and, if we cared about Jesus, we might, like Peter, pull him aside and whisper, “Shhhh.”  That’s the kind of thing Jesus did in declaring his death.

So how’s that going for you, O twenty-first century Christian?  Have you denied yourself?  Fought for anything that might get you into trouble?  Have you put your life on the line for the Gospel?

What have you done to advance the idea of “A Just World for All?”  How has your church led the way?  Have we been willing to give up our lives to save them?

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Church World Service Tool Project

Our special offering for the remainder of the year will be to the Church World Service tool campaign.  Just as we have offered CWS blankets as a special offering, we have an opportunity to join in this worthwhile project by providing tools for building construction and maintenance to our friends in Haiti and other devastated and underdeveloped countries.  Help us help even more families through your generosity to this project.  “Thank boxes” can be found on the front table or at the back of the church.

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Expansive Images of God

MIDWIFE–Psalm 22:9-21

MOTHER–Numbers 11:12-13; Deuteronomy 32:18; Job 30:28-29; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 46:3-4: Isaiah 49:15; Isaiah 66:9; Hosea 11:3-4, John 16:21; Romans 8:22; I Peter 2:2-3

MOTHER BEAR–Hosea 13:8

SHEPHERD–John 10:11, 14; Psalm 23

WOMAN–Luke 15:8-10

BAKER–Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21

EAGLE–Deuteronomy 21:11-12; Exodus 19:4

HEN–Matthew 23:37; Ruth 2:12; Psalm 57:1; Psalm 61:4; Luke 13:34; Psalm 17:8

FIRE–Deuteronomy 4:24; Acts 2:3

WIND–Acts 2:3, John 3:8

ROCK–Isaiah 17:10; Deuteronomy 32:18

WATER–Jeremiah 17:13

LIGHT–John 8:12; Isaiah 60:2-3

BREAD–John 6:33-35

VINE–John 15:1

WORD–John 1:1

WISDOM–Luke 11:49; I Corinthians 1:24

I AM–Exodus 3:14

POTTER–Jeremiah 18:1-11; Job 10:8-9

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How Shall We Speak?

When we think of justice-making, we usually think of taking action–like joining a peace action network, sending messages to elected officials about legislation, marching for peace and human rights, or organizing in our communities to make life better, safer and more just. We do not often think about the words we use–but we should.

Since 1973, the United Church of Christ has been at the forefront of efforts to promote awareness about gender-inclusive language and official policy for UCC publications. The words we use reflect the world in which we live, and words can also shape that same world, for better or for worse. Whether we are talking about God or each other, words can limit or expand our abilities to include or exclude others.

In 1993, the UCC Office for Church life and Leadership created the Inclusive Language Covenant stating the UCC stance on inclusive language and the barriers that can be created by using outdated expressions and imagery just because “it has always been done that way” and “it has been tradition!”

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28). With these words, the Apostle Paul breaks through the imperfections, inequities, and historical particularities of his world to a startling vision of human unity in Christ. Like Paul, thoughtful Christians today are still concerned about the various barriers of nation, race, power, and sex that divide the human family.

In particular, many Christians who have reflected on both Jesus’ reconciling ministry and Paul’s interpretive words are today questioning their churches’ traditional use of “exclusive” language–language, that is, which uses masculine imagery and terms to describe “normative” or general human experience, or language that implies God is a “male” deity with solely masculine attributes.

Such language, it is felt, not only alienates and excludes increasing numbers of individuals from meaningful worship; even more, it subtly sanctions and perpetuates a culture, both secular and ecclesiastical, in which women and others have systematically been ignored, subordinated, and denied positions of authority.

The UCC inclusive language covenant strive to use language in such a way that gender, race, ethnicity, age, physical ability, educational attainment, financial status, and national origin not become word barriers to persons as it recognizes that all are created in the image of God and are included among the people of God.

What is sought is language to include male, female, and gender-neutral images of God, taking particular care so that they do not inadvertently suggest that God is exclusively associated with one gender. (Examples:  “God in God’s wisdom” rather than “God in his wisdom; “people” rather than “men” “humankind” rather than “mankind;” “forebears” rather than “forefathers.”)

It is clear that the problem of finding appropriately inclusive language for use in the Church is a complex one, full of literal and emotional roadblocks. It is a problem that will not be solved simply by addressing God as Mother or Father or by changing hymn stanzas here and there.

The structure of liturgies, the casual forgetfulness of daily conversation, the limitations of language itself all present formidable obstacles to verbal equality. What is finally at stake, however, is the full affirmation of all God’s human creation–not just half of it.  Such an affirmation will inevitably require, in the words of Christian Century editor Jean Caffey Lyles, both compassion  and compromise.

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